Urgent call for shark nets to stem tourism loss to Ballina
ENOUGH is enough - shark nets and drum lines are needed urgently on the North Coast, members of a local shark action group told MPs at a public hearing yesterday in Ballina.
The call comes amid evidence of a downturn in summer tourism, with one Ballina accommodation provider reporting a loss of more than $60,000 in summer bookings.
Experts share on local impact
The NSW Upper House inquiry, headed by Nationals MP Kevin Anderson, heard yesterday from marine scientists, tourism administrators, surfers and lifeguards about the local impact of shark attacks.
The Far North Coast Shark Action Group told the inquiry that local businesses were already suffering ahead of the critical summer period and the "worst is yet to come".
Dunes at Shelley Beach owner Dave Loosemore said he usually took up to $100,000 worth of bookings and had just $38,000 this year - thanks to the fear of more shark attacks.
The group's representatives Don Munro, Ben Kirby, and Nick Mercer, called for the immediate deployment of traditional shark nets while emerging 'marine-friendly' technologies were still in the trial phase.
Fast tracking technologies
The State Government has just announced a fast-tracked trial of new shark tracking and attack mitigation technologies across the North Coast, including 'smart' drum lines, 4G listening stations, with shark barriers at Lennox Head and Shelley Beach.
But the local surfers said traditional shark nets and drum lines - used successfully off the Gold Coast and Sydney for decades - were a better guarantee until the new technologies were proven.
"In principle we'll support anything that works," Nick Mercer explained. "But we don't want to put things that don't work.... and give people a false sense of security."
Greens against smart drum lines
Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith is against the idea, having already threatened to call for the "immediate removal" of the 'smart' drum lines if they threaten marine life.
"By-catch and fatalities of our marine life will be unacceptable," she said in a statement.
But Mr Mercer said the North Coast was in a unique situation with regular attacks that were causing a "huge drain" on financial resources and local morale.
He said surfers had never pushed for meshing and drum lines prior to the recent spate of shark encounters, because they accepted the normal low-level risk of shark attack.
And contrary to a survey conducted by the North Coast Destination Network that the shark attacks had made no impact on tourism, the Shark Action Group said their own surveys were revealing a significant hit.
One of the worst affected businesses is Dunes at Shelley Beach which has suffered a 60% drop in bookings over summer.
"Normally between December and January we take between $85,000 and $100,000 in bookings... this year we have $38,000," owner Dave Loosemore said.
Mr Loosemore said the solution was to "put more nets in... as soon as possible".
Other businesses such as the Flat Rock Tent Park and Lennox Head camping ground were also down about 15-20%.
Mr Loosemore said the impact of those cancellations, equivalent to 500 people, would be felt across Ballina as dollars wouldn't be spent on meals and shopping.
His worry was the cancellations would become a permanent downturn as people chose other regions far away from the North Coast.
"The worse part about any business is once you lose your clientele, getting them back is very difficult," he said.
"They'll find another location... (bookings) are down for Easter as well."